Art making

Teepee Firing

Ok, so this firing actually occured all the way back in 2007, but I came across all my notes and photos the other day and thought it was too interesting not to share with y’all.

All the way back in ’07 the Urban Archaeology Collective had an exhibition ‘Urban Archaeology: Digging It‘ showing at Corban Estate Arts Centre. The Urban Archaeology Collective always had a strong experimental focus and exploring alternative ways of working and firing were just as important as exhibiting. So, given all the wide open space on the estate we decided to undertake a bit of an experimental firing.

Here are the details of the firing – if you are going to try this at home – make sure you have heaps of clear space around the teepee and water on hand – and don’t leave it unsupervised!

19 January 2007: Teepee Firing, Corban Estate Arts Centre

Present: Louise Dentice, Judy Meehl, Helen Perrett and honorary Urban Archaeologist for the day – Dave Stewart.

Materials required:

  • Fire bricks (for base)
  • Cabbage tree leaves (good for wicks)
  • Sawdust
  • Bisque ceramics
  • Plenty of dry wood sticks (not too thick)
  • Seaweed, shells, copper, oxides etc
  • Tomato stakes (good for outer framework)
  • Plenty of newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • Clay slip (made from recycled or old clay)
  • Firelighters
  • Gas wand or lighters
  • Gas torch (handing for assisting in lighting wood.)
  • Goggles (to protect eyes from smoke)
  • Water source, i.e. buckets of water
  • Gloves
  • Tongs
  • Spade (for collecting embers and cleaning up)
  • Metal bin (for embers)

This is what we did:

8.30am ish     

  • Chose area away from trees and out of direct wind.
  • Laid out fire bricks (3×5 rows) placed finger width apart.
  • Set work on top, (we neglected to put sawdust on bricks first, but good idea to do this in future) tallest in centre, scattered small pieces throughout.
  • Laid ‘wicks’ of cabbage leaves between bricks with fire lighters at the ends. Built up ‘wigwam’ of twigs around and between works.
  • Seaweed, shells, sawdust, copper oxychloride, iron sulphate and moth balls were scattered through and over wood.
  • Final framework of tall tomato stakes used to form skeleton on which to place ‘skin’.
  • Used masking tape to secure the first layer of newspaper over framework. It was decided to do this as we hoped it would prevent the wood underneath getting too wet (and too difficult to light). The newspaper needs to go right down to ground level and seal the gap between the ground. A little space should be left where wicks are.
  • The next layer we dipped in fairly runny clay slip (just broken down recycled clay), and also painted and smeared it on. And built this up to around four layers.

10.00am 

  • Lit the firelighters.
  • Struggled to get the fire going, Extremely smokey, but we were unsure as to whether the wood inside was catching alight. We could tell it was burning in patches as the newspaper/clay slip was burning through (these parts need to be continually re – patched with newspaper and slip).
  • We poked a few holes through the newspaper hoping the oxygen would draw the flame up. We used a gas burner to help get it going.

11.45am: Because of the quantity of the smoke we decided to clam it by 12.30. It did seem to have been burning on 4 sides at this stage. Impossible to tell if the fire had reached the centre but the top of the teepee frame had burnt.

12.00ish: Clammed all of the openings with clay slipped paper (we needed more paper and slip than anticipated).

12.30pm: Gentle smoke leaking out. Aim to leave it 6 hours, (patching skin with clay slipped paper as necessary.)

5.00pm ish: Noted that the teepee seemed to be gaining temperature

6.00pm: The arts centre staff and the Summer School students on the estate were keen for us to open teepee to see the results of what we had been working on.

6.30pm ish: Cracked open the top of the kiln, there was a lot of heat in there and unburnt fuel, we knew that exposure to oxygen would probably cause it to burst into flame so we got lots of buckets of water together. We pulled the teepee frame to the side to expose the (piles of charcoal, wood and embers!) ceramic work, and doused the embers.

Results

There were some good results, mainly black colouring, though there were some greens, oranges and browns and a couple of flashings of red.

We felt that we would have liked to have left the teepee until it had burnt out completely itself, leaving only the outer clay shell (and not so much charcoal and embers to deal with cleaning up), we may have also got some more interesting decorative results.

We also decided that we had too densely packed the middle with wood, leaving more space may have helped the flame move around.

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I am a sculptor, hailing from West Auckland, New Zealand and now reside in London. My main sculptural mediums are ceramics and art medals.